Drawn to Silence – opening speech

“Drawn to Silence”

Opening Speech

Presented at Jugglers Art Space Inc on September 31, 2016.Peter Breen

Welcome and thank you for coming to this exhibition of drawings and sketches on this theme that strikes a chord with me and many others – Silence.

Let us acknowledge the traditional custodians and elders past, present and emerging and take time to reflect on this.

  • There is too much noise
  • There is too much noise
  • There is too much noise.

What might this mean to be drawn to silence?

Thomas Merton wrote this “In Silence”:

Be still

Listen to the stones of the wall

Be silent, they try

To speak your



To the living walls

What are you?


Are you? Whose silence are you?

Who [be quiet]

Are you [as these stones are quiet] Do not

Think of what you are

Still less of

What you one day be.


Be what you are [but who?] be

The unthinkable one

You do not know.

Only be still, while

You are still alive,

And all things live around you

Speaking [ I do not hear]

Speaking to the unknown

That is in you and in themselves.

Will try, like them

To be my own silence:

And this is difficult. The whole

World is secretly on fire. The stones

Burn, even the stones

They burn me. How can a man be still or

Listen to all things burning? How can he dare

To sit with them when

All their silence

Is on fire?

1957 from The Strange Islands.

Thomas Merton interests me along with other poets and writers and artists and musicians primarily because I am drawn constantly and have been for years to silence and mystery. When I was a minister of religion – for 20 years – the hunger I had was for a life of connection to silence and mystery. In that role I facilitated a range of programs and events and readings that along with all of the other accoutrements of religion formed the direction I took. In leaving the religious framework and beginning Jugglers and returning to radiography in 2003 I eventually have come to a new understanding of such things as eternal life as a present knowing of wonder and beauty found in nature –eg  Ireland’s natural wonder – and a range of other spiritual experiences and sources that for me are centred not only in the Christian Scriptures but across the bottom line of seeking to know. An honest integrity and passion to know has a reward of its own missing from consumerism and the GDP and religious belief.

White Silence has been driven by this drawing to silence, mystery and epiphany. My trip to Ireland gave me the opportunity for silence in beauty and for beauty in silence.

There is now, a growing hunger for silence for stillness and renewal of the soul and a move away from the division of the enlightenment and rationalism including Greek “spirit, soul and body” non-dualistic holistic experiencing .

  • The ABC now has a weekly podcast of yoga and stillness music every Saturday morning at 5.30am.
  • A film has just been produced in the USA by a group of young film makers: “In pursuit of Silence.” The sound track of that film is what is at the back of this PowerPoint of my photos of our trip.

The pressure of consumption is reducing, we have reached peak car and a time is coming when we will walk away from our phones and computer screens. Into silence. And the world will be a better place and so will we.

There is too much noise.I am diminished by the flashing signage at the 5 ways.

In Ireland there were hardly any billboards and none on the roads from north to south.

Thomas Merton though a Christian Hermit, an artist, theologian and writer was a full blooded human. Though a priest and Roman Catholic monk he began to fully embrace Buddhism and while still under his Trappist orders, fell in love with Maggie Smith, 25 years his junior and his nurse at the local hospital. The Eros works in the show are representative of this experience.

The search for silence and mystery and god and understanding is not about denial of the body as much as a loss of the ego in order to embrace all things as good and beautiful in which the silence and mystery dwell and where occasionally an acute awareness and passing by happens. The normality of this is what I long to experience and long for us all to be aware of as normal. We do not deny our sexuality, sensuality or hunger for beauty as much as let it be part of our spirituality while understanding that love and ethics form part of our behaviour. Coming from a narrow and repressive religious dualistic framework for me and for Merton has taken time to abandon.

In the sketches on old dictionary pages “Talking and listening” I confess my own slow journey into the embrace of silence: I talk too much, listen reluctantly, shouting in the wrong direction but I also know the wonderful personal joy of “the thin whisper”!

Merton’s journey and writing and art was unfinished but finished. His path to silence, to knowing god, to being fully human and fully alive was a journey into death, a disappearance both physically and spiritually.

Read the new children’s book:

“The Sound of Silence”  by Katrina Goldsaito illustrated by Julia Kuo [Little Brown and Company, New York and Boston, 2016]


  • Conemarra, SW Ireland
  • Gethsemane Monastery, Kentucky, USA Thomas Merton's home.
  • Thomas Merton


Conemarra, SW Ireland

Conemarra, SW Ireland

Gethsemane Monastery, Kentucky, USA Thomas Merton's home.

Gethsemane Monastery, Kentucky, USA Thomas Merton's home.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton